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Retro revisit: Utilizing Apple's iPod mini in 2020 – jj

Retro revisit: Utilizing Apple's iPod mini in 2020


The iPod mini had a relatively short lifespan in the scope of Apple’s storied history, yet 16 years later it remains an iconic device that holds a special place for many. Just for fun, we revisit and re-review the iPod mini here in 2020 to see how the popular device has held up.

Listening to music on the iPod mini

Listening to music on iPod mini

iPod mini’s brief history

Appledebuted the iPod mini in 2004 as a response to the litany of new flash-based media players that were hitting the market. Flash-based media players were small and shipped with maybe 256MB of storage. iPod mini, on the other hand, came in a new, tiny design but with 4GB of storage thanks to its compact internal hard drive. That would hold up to a thousand songs.

At $249, the iPod mini was more expensive than the flash-based players, but not by much and had far more storage space. “You get 940 more songs for $50,” Steve Jobs said at the time. At the time, the regular iPod was selling in versions from $299 to $399.

The iPod mini had an extruded aluminium body that came in blue, green, silver, gold, and pink. The bottom was home to the 30-pin connector used for syncing with yourMac or PC as well as playing back via various third-party docking stations or Apple’s own dock. On top was a hold switch to prevent it from inadvertently turning on and the headphone jack with an additional connector for media controls.

The back of the iPod mini

The back of the iPod mini

Only a year later Apple released the second generation model which included an 8GB storage variant and dropped the gold color option. Merely a year after that, iPod mini was discontinued completely and replaced with the iPod nano.

While iPod mini only lasted a very short time, it was in demand nearly the entire time. It was always highly sought after and was always difficult for stores to keep in stock. Personally, iPod mini was my first Apple product.

I vividly remember heading to my local CompUSA to pick one up where they were entirely sold out apart from a single silver and a single green model. I opted for the green and remember how hard it was to patiently wait until I was home to tear into it. That iPod mini is single-handedly responsible for countless subsequent Apple purchases for me, and many others.

Using iPod mini in 2020

Apple's legacy 30-pin cable

Apple’s legacy 30-pin cable

To use an iPod mini in 2020 is easier said than done. For starters, a legacy 30-pin cable is necessary to charge and sync the device. As they were discontinued many years ago, they are hard to come by.

iPod mini syncing in Finder

iPod mini syncing in Finder

Then iTunes has now been discontinued, which makes syncing unfamiliar, but not difficult. Previously, back in the day, you would use a 30-pin to USB cable, connecting it to your Mac and then launching iTunes. Today that cable might need a USB-C adapter, if you have a newer Mac, but when it’s connected, the iPod mini will now show up in the Finder. It’s listed there next to all of your other drives and locations. Then you can sync as normal.

An iPhone 11 Pro Max with AirPods next to our iPod mini with wired earbuds

An iPhone 11 Pro Max with AirPods next to our iPod mini with wired earbuds

Power cable aside, though, we even found ourselves struggling to find compatible headphones. All of our Apple earbuds lying around use the Lightning connector and it took some digging for us to find our old 3.5mm Apple earbuds.

That struggle was just one reminder of how very much our devices have evolved, and how quickly we take their new features for granted.

Playing brick breaker on iPod mini with the click wheel

Playing brick breaker on iPod mini with the click wheel

The iPod mini was largely notable for its small form factor with a spinning hard drive, but it was also the first iPod to debut with Apple’s well-known click wheel. The design is so easy to use that even all these years later and reliance on touch screens, the click wheel is still simple and fast to use.

It was effortless second nature to quickly glide through Apple’s menu system as we perused our early-2000’s music library.

Speaking of which, though, the iPod mini of course does not support Apple Music —or any other streaming service for that matter. This means the music you have to listen to on it is limited to the music you own. As steadfast streaming fans, we haven’t bought music in years.

For this nostalgic look back at the iPod mini, though, this seemed rather fitting. We were using a retro iPod mini and listening to our throwback music on it.

There is more to the iPod mini than just music, however. It has support for calendars, contacts, and even several different games including solitaire and brick breaker. They are hardly on the same level as iPhone games, but they can still be fun time killers.

Green iPod mini

Green iPod mini

Although the iPod mini is 16 years old, we still use it on occasion. It is a fun throwback device that fits alongside our record player and vintage Marshall speakers.

Plus it speaks to just how well Apple designed iPod mini that not only is it still working more than a decade and a half later, but it remains simple, easy, and enjoyable to use.

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